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2013’s top stories No. 9: Salmo council under siege

All was not well in Salmo this year as citizens squabbled with council over the village garbage contract, among other things. - Nelson Star file photo
All was not well in Salmo this year as citizens squabbled with council over the village garbage contract, among other things.
— image credit: Nelson Star file photo

Who would have guessed a garbage contract could cause such a stink? It happened in Salmo this year, where village council found itself under fire from residents unhappy with a decision to put garbage collection out to tender, leaving the business that did the job for 21 years in the cold.

The village awarded the contract to Alpine Disposal for $65,000 over longtime contractor Salmo Garbage Services, with a bid of $85,000.

“We’ve always sat down and worked toward an agreement that would benefit the greater community of Salmo, keep our jobs local and keep the money in the community,” said Darlene McConnell of Salmo Garbage Services. “So why now?”

She said she was less upset about losing the contract than the way it was handled.

The village insisted it was merely following a 2003 policy that any goods or services over $500 had to go to tender, but McConnell countered that the job had been grandfathered and they’d signed two contracts in the last ten years.

“Maybe that wasn’t the correct thing to do and we are trying to do things the right way, the legal way,” said councillor Janine Haughton.

Councillor Merle Hanson said the decision had nothing to do with quality of service. “One of the only reasons for putting it out to tender was so taxpayers know that what we are paying is legitimate and the best return for their money.”

Council heard the village had seen a 26 per cent increase in garbage disposal fees over the last five years.

But the decision prompted a backlash as about 30 residents packed council chambers to support McConnell. Councillor Jennifer Peel’s suggestion the contract was in the community’s best interest met heated rebuttals from the public gallery.

“We support our local people and businesses. Is bringing in an outside business really good for our community?” one resident asked.

“I am glad this issue came up because otherwise it would sit and fester in the community,” said resident Stephen White, a regular council-watcher.

Outspoken residents continued to attend council meetings. At the same time vandalism to village property increased and village staff had their tires slashed.

Police were called several times to escort people off site and the village office was closed for two days in October following verbal threats. (RCMP said they knew the suspect and were trying to resolve the case with crown counsel.)

“I am tired of the abuse and the bullying,” mayor Ann Henderson said. “All sorts of thoughts go through your head because we have all been verbally abused and threats have been made.”

Henderson laid down the law, beginning each council meeting by reading rules of decorum and at one point cancelling public time altogether.

But in a letter to the editor, resident Dan Danforth put the blame back on council, suggesting the problems didn’t start with the garbage contract.

“That was just the last straw from years of ongoing incidents of ineffective efforts, inefficient procedures, poor decisions and self-centered agendas,” he wrote. “I have been observing this mayor and council regularly for five years and have sad examples of all of the above.”

He added that citizens were frustrated and angry at a lack of responsiveness to their complaints. But council held firm in its decision over the garbage contract.

“Why on earth would saving taxpayers of our village over $20,000 in garbage fees incense folks to riot?” Haughton asked. “It is beyond my comprehension.”

There was other turmoil too: village administrator Scott Sommerville left to become city manager in Kimberley. His replacement, Bob Payette, lasted barely a month before he was let go for undisclosed reasons.

The controversies had the mayor contemplating retirement from politics. “This has been a busy year,” said Henderson, who is in her third term and ran unopposed in 2011. “With everything that has happened, I am not sure if I will run again.”

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